Tuesday, December 25, 2012


It's that time of year. The frangipani in our front yard, Sydney, just about says it all.

Monday, December 17, 2012


Michael Black, Opera Australia's outstanding chorus master, is taking up the full time position of Chicago Lyric's chorus master in August 2013. That's just a few months before Gotterdammerung in Melbourne.

Read allaboudit here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Wasn't it Woody Allen who hit the spot with "The trouble with happiness is it can't buy you money!" I love it. Still breaks me up.

It and its variations on a theme certainly broke everyone up in Pique Dame. That's so much of what I love about it. Everyone fails. Hermann loses happiness (and himself) in the search for money. Lisa loses money (and herself) in the search for happiness. The Countess, malcontent that she is, drops dead when confronted with 'show me the money'. And the Prince loses happiness but keeps the money. Etc.

Anyway, there was no trouble with Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra's Queen of Spades last Saturday night, the first of two. I found it quite overwhelming and was quietly emotional for all but all of the first half (as played that means to Act II, Sc 1). It was simply the excellence of it that got to me. The cast is here.

I chose to sit rear stalls which was a good call. The sound mix is just about as good as it gets with soloists and big forces - a huge orchestra, sounding wonderful, a huge choir (about 150 excluding the children's choir) sounding wonderful, and a big line up of soloists, a quite exotic line up in fact, sounding wonderful. The acoustic modifications don't look nearly as bad or ticky tacky as they do when looking down form the circle and the sound was very good for whatever reason - the hall is sounding better, the orchestra is sounding better, the seating is better, I was in a better mood without eyes hanging out after a day down the mines ...

And I had grown to love the work enormously having been obsessed with it over the preceding few weeks. It was really Ashkenazy's triumph. The only thing that niggled me was the Countess's great aria when there was maybe room for something rather more French along the lines of lingering warmth and rubato and less chilly Russian. Early settling in moments when it felt like the choir, which sounded alarmingly more philharmonic than chorus at first (strange that) was feeling the air, and some initial uncertainty in the children (always forgiven, it just makes them sound more gorgeously childlike) soon passed and the new sound stage took shape. I now wonder if anything lesser could satisfy.

Great moments were whenever Stuart Skelton was on stage, like all seven scenes. He is a mighty presence and singer and I can't think of anyone anywhere who could match such beauty with such masculinity, not to mention stamina. Boy did he ride the storm (Ashkenazy gave him no special consideration there and he rode it triumphantly). His "beauty, goodness, angel" (how I love that courtship - it is so wild; got Lisa) was spine tingling. And on and on. And the Lisa of Dina Kuznetsova (Francesca di Rimini next year at the Met) was a dream - she seemed always in character, every movement, every head angle, every step with dress held up slightly, and sang like it was her fetish role. It should become same. She was the big surprise of the night.

Andrei Bondarenko's Prince was another sung to perfection. He gets the beautiful aria, so beautiful as to seem, intentionally I'm sure, to be effete beside wild man's engorging swelling almost thrusting "beauty, goodness, angel". He topped it off with a stunning mezza di voce on the big note of his final phrase and an audience otherwise stunned into silence and breathholding burst into applause (the tune helped I think too, doesn't it always).

Jose Carbo had a big sing too as Tomsky and Deborah Humble poured it out with lush velvet ripples as Pauline (another big surprise). There were no weaknesses really.

Characterisation came and went a bit. The native Russians not unexpectedly more at home with the text seemed rather more free to emote and act out. The chair for the Countess's final scene was a great idea, and I only wish the idea had been extended and Stuart had pulled a gun on her. Really. Everything was calling for it, and I thought he would. It would have capped it off, so to speak.

The lighting effects once the old buzzard had croaked were very effective. I'd have preferred the hall darkened more and earlier. It seemed like a work in progress, but very good progress, and maybe just needed more time.

The final mens chorus lament was simply the most beautifully modulated singing you can wish for. And the extras from the chorus, notably Amy Corkery, were splendid.

The curtain calls could have done with a bit more choreography which is hard to do admittedly at the end of a long night on a large but crowded concert platform. The children had long gone, the female choir had gone, there was a long line of soloists, the orchestra was huge, and there was Ashkenazy. It was just that we wanted to say thank you more individually, and especially to the chief, and for a little while longer.

Here speak Mr Ashkenazy and Mr Skelton:

Critical thumbs up are here and here.

It was a fine end to the year (for me).

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Remember Pique Dame? Not likely if you live down here.

It was the late '70s when The Australian Opera got it together and ran it in Sydney and Melbourne and Adelaide. Bonynge conducted (I'm pretty sure) a production by Regina Resnik and designed by her husband Arbit Blatas with Ms Resnik sharing the role of the countess with Rosina Raisbeck (Resnik / Raisbeck!). I heard Resnik.

It was sadly underwhelming, not surprisingly looking back. The design was poorly regarded, Resnik made little impression, and despite the incredibly accomplished and versatile Marilyn Richardson singing Lisa, it was not one of the company's finest moments. I can't remember how it sounded, but I imagine if nothing else much of the beauty and detail of the orchestration stayed choked in the pit.

Well, luck can change (if not for Herman). Coming to the end of his tenure, Vladimir Ashkenazy has blessed us with two concert performances with the SSO where it will be all about what you hear. And heading who you will hear in this Queen of Spades is our very own home grown Prince of Tenors

and likewise formidable casting from locals and Russian visitors. If anyone knows how to cast this, it's Our Vlad with his orchestra on stage, and, and the Sydney Philharmonia Choir.

I'm excited. I've been warming up. It's a big sing. The '79 Bolshoi with Atlantov you can watch in full. 3 hours. If you are anything like me, beware starting unless you have the time. It's totally compelling, on every level. I heard Atlantov only once, in Vienna, where his stunning Pagliacci was so masculine, so angry, so penetrating, it was scary.

Here you go (embedding disabled).

And Obraztsova's rivetting reverie:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Hey. Look what popped onto the radar today. Very Quite Interesting.

"Rights In The Age Of Romance"!

When I was thinking, and I was,  that Orchestra Romantique may have run out of puff I was underestimating just how much ooomph Nick Byrne has. I mean, he can play with his left ear.

Remember Nick and his ophicleide? He's back but there's no sign of Nicholas Carter waving the stick this time. "Justice In The Age Of Romance"is the mysterious header which is explained in the programme :
Director/Soloist : Kristian Winther

Special Guest Speaker : Geoffrey Robertson

Johannes Brahms 
Double Concerto in A minor for violin and cello (opus 102)
Soloists : Kristian Winther and Timo-Veikko Valve


Geoffrey Robertson introduces and discusses "Rights in the Age of Romanticism" using Ludwig van Beethoven's works as a point of reference, including overtures to:
Creatures of Prometheus

Yes, that Geoffrey Robertson.

That photo is an oldie, but a goodie.

This is terrific programming. More please. Apart from just loving the Brahm's Double (a childhood thing ya know), the integration of such genres and ideas is what we desperately need. Will Julian get a mention?

A few other things stand out. All seating is 30 bucks, so the child and concession friendly pricing and timeslot has gone, for this event at least. No kids here makes sense. There was discussion about the little people last time. These events seem a bit sporadic. Maybe that's the nature of things like this. Colour us lucky nonetheless.

Timo-Veikko Valve - now that's a name! Kristian Winther is young and recently appointed to the ACO (my error - it should have read Australian String Quartet but I think that's in some form of flux so nothing to add there, sorry. Timo Veikko Valve is ACO and maybe that's where my circuits got crossed.)

Full details here on the 'City of Sydney What's On'. I must say that I am not involved in this in any way although I was involved in some fund raising on a previous occasion.

Monday, November 12, 2012


I love this photo. It's nothing more than an i-phone snap after the Munich Götterdämmerung as we headed down the steps and out across the square. But it captured much of the night in a single frame.

It was Sunday July 15, and Nina Stemme had just finished singing the hell out of Brünnhilde. She was the third B of the cycle, following the brilliant youthful Walküre Brünnhilde of Irene Theorin (whose Isolde was about to reduce me to tears in my first night at Bayreuth, little did I know) and Catherine Naglestad's fulsome pulsing aroused Siegfried Brünnhilde. It seemed to make perfect sense to have three different sopranos for these three different women - young impetuous, sexually awakened, and last but not least the woman matured through male treachery and alone wise to the world - each so wonderfully different yet each so right.

The Ring had been six nights, with nights off between Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung and there was a grand air of celebration, generally as well as among our small group. JT was to fly back to London early next morning, Dr B was heading home to Sydney via Berlin, and we would drive S&D down to Como for a few nights before coming back to Munich.

Very briefly, I thought vocally it would be hard to beat, and have already made quick notes to that effect, especially now with Nina Stemme topping the lot. It was the production by Andreas Kreigenburg - the world is people and people are the world production. Rhinegold begins well before the written E flat with the stage filled with 'people' with the sound of water running, trickling, as people picknick, the Ring cast moving among them (look, bet she's a Rhinedaughter), undressing, painting themselves blue, becoming water, becoming the Rhine and so it began. It didn't suit me but it was fun. Later they would become earth smeared and clumped from whence Erda would appear, or in white turn into branching trees in Siegfried, or in red suspended in a frame turn themselves into an angry Fafner. The most notorious moment was at the start of Act III Walküre when instead of that Ride music bursting out there was a music-less ballet of stomping snorting mane thrashing Valkyres which went on and on, and on, till someone called out (in German of course) 'start the music', and then boos, and then bravos, and then mild mayhem, till finally the Ride began. I really don't think Mr Wagner needs anything added, on the contrary, and found it more than impertinent that anyone would think their creativity was anywhere near worthy. But again, it was fun.

Anyway, here she was, her magnificent self atop the red carpet, dwarfed by the massive columns of the Bavarian State Opera, the upper floor lights still glowing, with the crowd wide spaced and leaning forward, peering. This was the only broadcast night, out into the square (where some diehards braved a cold drizzly night) and over the airwaves and 'net, and here we were at the wrap-up. General manager looking men and a gushy hostess dominate, with the star demurely giving them the space they demanded when all we wanted to see was her wonderful self. Camera men cast wiggly shadows up the steps, and a man holds his camera out for all the world looking like he's giving one of those salutes.

Escaping the cold, we dodged the puddles and skipped across the square, slipped into Spatenhaus

and up the stairs.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


I had a curious night at the opera last week, Wednesday in fact. It was Halloween, a few moons past full, and the little street where we live was busy with squealing children running up and down in search of fun and lollies.

I was still unsettled about spending so much when I'd sworn off the local product as just not value for money. There are cheap seats, but they risk not hearing, not seeing, or both. Anyway Salome is a a rare event down here, and I just wasn't prepared to miss it, despite the scaling down of things orchestral, especially when here was a chance to hear Cheryl have a bash at it. Cheryl Barker, Baz Lurhmann's once lovely innocent Mimi, is pretty good at inhabiting a character, and Princess Salome is some character.

JL was sitting directly behind with a friend who insisted that the performance was going to be fabulous, everyone had told her, and I felt she felt I should feel lucky she was telling me, in case I thought it was going to be a Viennese waltzy night, and be disappointed, as she took a similarly educative tone to that of the email the opera company sent me the week before warning me that this might not be the Strauss I had in mind when I booked. I'm serious. And then JL needed to tell me that those French people we met at dinner the previous Friday had finally left Sydney, Madame full of complaints (too hot, too cold) while Monsieur remained as charming as ever. By now I was turned completely sideways in my seat and somehow, a cold chill in the air perhaps (no beating wings yet), I was made aware that my knee was touching the leg, long and straightforward, of my neighbour and he was, not to put it too mildly, glowering at me. Apologies fell of deaf ears I fear but never mind, the lights were dimming and bigger indiscretions were about to start.

With that curly clarinet erectile motif, curtain was up and there was the set (Brian Thompson). I am a set, it said, and a big set too. It was an elevated circular platform accessed by side steps from the rear banquet table and with a very dominant convex circular staircase descending to the stage itself of which perhaps five percent remained, if that. Unless there was going to be some sitting and singing on the stairs, the main action was looking like it would be confined to 'up and back' which is not a good start in this little theatre with poor acoustics, now overstuffed with 'a set'. There was something about the proportions that was wrong, it was choking, as if it had been designed for a big theatre, or even a normal sized one. The elevated platform was about man height above the stage, about Jokanaan height actually, suggesting there was no other way to get the prophet below stage other than building it up above him. And it was dried blood red and black, all of it, presumably blood soaked from the suspended carcasses, looking more like skins drying out to be made into leather, at the rear. Oh, it's fabulous, a nod to Francis Bacon I'd heard. But better a nod to Oscar Wilde I thought. I hated it.

I wondered how fabulous the woman behind was finding things. Now not a lot happens early on, except for some poetic thoughts about the moon, and the Princess, so there was time to ponder the costumes (Julie Lynch), with neither moon nor moonlight yet to materialise (lucky I didn't hold my breath). Here were universal soldiers, in tight (ever tried getting a soldier to wear tight?) camo style gear with shoulder strap bullet holders, knives and swords not guns, overripe red shoulder padding, and all with a strange latex stretchy look, like a fetish party where the lighting would be all but nonexistent, thankfully. Salome (Cheryl Barker) was yes in white but with a very strange pointy headdress with black curls entangled in it, more medusa than virgin teen. Mother (Jacqueline Dark) I'm at a loss to describe, other than vulgar is not how I see the incestuous one who should at least be of a certain age, and her age was not helping Ms Dark's dramaturgy, risus sardonicus notwithstanding. Herod (John Pickering) was rather more straightforward though bearing no dress relationship to the forgoing, topped with a foolish gold crown which reminded me of that many-years-ago Kosky Nabucco.

Herod is no fool. A drunk surely, and impotent old lech, but nobody's fool. (Interestingly Strauss, as Alex Ross in The Rest is Noise quotes him, saw the prophet as the only ridiculous figure, an imbecile, while the whole court was more a parody of the court of Kaiser Wilhelm, admixed with both censorious prudishness and homosexual scandal). The only costume shock left was that Jokanaan (John Wegner) actually looked a bit like you expected.

Herod had, remember, managed to get all the thinking guys to dinner for a deep and meaningful about life, death and the universe. There were the regular irregular Jews, two Christian Coptic looking priests, and I swear I saw a Ghandi too.

The stage stuff everyone had been talking about, everyone knew, and it's fabulous, don't you know. Now The Baptist would let the temptress fondle his hair, his hormones stirring, despite the very fundamental tenet of the fundamentalist, not to mention the libretto, forbidding such contact. Now the dance of the seven veils would be the dance of the seven sex symbols, from Madonna (Jesus's mum, not pop star), through pole dancer, and Marilyn Monroe. The straight legged grump next to me loved the Marilyn sequence - the billowing skirt over the cistern made him chortle and shift in his seat. He moves I thought. It was entertaining and a break from staring at that set where little before had much directorial (Gale Edwards) flair but it was nonetheless a major distraction from the business at hand -  the means to an end ("I was a virgin and thou - Jokanaan - didst take my virginity away"), lust and the loss of virginity and the ambiguity of it all: the younger defiling herself so she could defile the older, just who is good and who is evil, how ungood is fundamentalist goodness, the need to tempt, to corrupt, to not consent, to consent, to consort, to want and to get, not to mention Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, who by the way translated the original French into English. A cross-dressing undressing Salome for a Wildean Herod, now that would have been fabulous.

Still, fabulousness was nigh and vocally things had been and were going much better. Narraboth was generously cast with David Corcoran, Pickering was especially effective, Wegner imposed his considerable baritone with appropriate command, Dark was hurling out mummy dearest, and Cheryl gave notice when she stood downstage, at last, and demanded thrice the head, she meant business.

And she was indeed fabulous, alone now on a bare surreal platform looking good at last. The voice I find hard to describe - its frays a little around the edges at the top which now gave it an electric adrenalised buzz. There were moments of hair raising penetrating sound, a fullness and confidence in herself that was so relevant to the woman with the head as we witnessed slack jawed one of the most god-awful private encounters ever exposed. It was, cliché warning, a brave performance, a complete surrender ending in such rapture that I think I was even more happy for her than mummy.

And then, at the climax, the kiss, the kiss, when the moon's dark cloud cover should momentarily part and reveal all to all, and so disgust Herod (who in this production had wandered off, to attend to his needs perhaps), at that chilling moment luckily in he ambles, and may as well have been doing up his fly. It made nonsense of the sudden call to kill her. But wait. We need the soldiers, the ones with the plastic see-through shields (forgot to tell you about the plastic shields). So suddenly the rear plastic scrim lifts again and Cheryl's work is so undone - the toy soldiers are back. Now you cant crush people with plastic shields, obviously. Not a good look, not with Cheryl. So they cut her throat. What were they thinking - don't they read the papers? We kill innocents and trouble makers by tazering them down here. Tazer. Tazer. Tazer.

Thump Thump Thump from the pit. Johannes Fritzsch had done a sterling job making it sound a bit thrilling at least with his limited resources and now Silence, Deadly Silence.  But, what's that Whirring Sound? - of course, the curtain is coming down.

If there's one that calls for a blackout, this is it. And while I'm at it, if there's one that calls for singing it in English, this is it. And if there's one that calls for a moon, ...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


There have never been so many Blue Wrens (Superb Blue Wren; Fairy Wren - Malurus cyaneus) as there are this spring. And it is they and their nests for which I suspect the goanna has been patrolling around.

These gorgeous little birds nest in low bushes and I've planted Banksia and Grevilleas close by the house windows (not good bush fire sense) to bring the birds. In the mornings the male (hyperactive to the point of impossible to get a good shot) is out and about in his electric blue breeding colours, tap tap tapping at the window in that strange way birds do in mirrors, pecking at their image and whether defending against the enemy or preening at self - who knows. The breeding males acquires an almost iridescent blue crown and flaring cheeks. Females, immatures and non breeding males are dull brown grey. And it seems it's only the dressy blue breeder who does the window tap - let me kiss me I am so stunning.

So this morning I was ready. Even sucking as much light into the camera as I could, it was still difficult to get a shutter speed fast enough to get a reasonably sharp image.

Male and female I suspect:

Look at me:

And now the fearsome look, goanna beware:

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


He/she's back.

There's lots of fledglings (mostly superb blue wrens) about and maybe still some eggs unhatched in nests in the Grevillea and Banksia I've planted close to the house to attract the honeyeaters. It's that time of year. And Polly (the King Parrot) was here early this morning too, perched on one of the high windows, peering in as I had a cup of tea. I kid you not.

Anyway, the Goanna. I had a sense something was outside, and as I stepped onto the terrace with the dog, it bolted up the house gum.

Such a handsome ancient creature in his ill-fitting elaborately marked skin.

The dog was pretty unconcerned. She's not one for getting into trouble and takes most things in her stride. She's a kelpie, and knows it.

The goanna stayed a safe distance up the tree till the dog was inside and then after a quick check made the descent - head first, claws ripping off bits of bark - back onto the grass and oblivious to me (click clicking away) headed for Millie's recently discarded bone.

A few licks and a tug later and Goanna was circling the house gardens again looking for something to swallow, whole probably.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


It looked like one of the more normal corners of the gallery, a brown leather couch on a persian rug, with a glass coffee table and a standard lamp as the main light source, a glaringly bourgeois display next to Juan Davila's completely outrageous 'The Arse End Of The World' (which I told 'theO' I hated on the basis that that might keep it on display).

'My Beautiful Chair' it was called - an interactive installation by Greg Taylor and Dr Philip Nitschke, 2010. On the coffee table was the Nitschke Euthanasia Machine. The only machine that has done its job, four times I think in the Northern Territory before the Federal Government intervened and overturned the state legislation permitting end-of-life, is in the British Museum, Science Section. The Powerhouse in Sydney had it but the pressure to not 'contaminate the public with such evil' got the better of them. You can sit on the couch, the beautiful chair, and go through the touch screen computer programme confirming that the next touch will mean you will die, by the injection of barbiturate from the big syringe, slightly exaggerated for artistic effect, waiting in its case on the coffee table to be activated from inertia into a lethal push. I only saw females sitting there having a go. 

Dr Nitschke, an invited speaker, spoke in the conference session on "End of Life Issues". A humanist, surely, he too seems as fearless as it gets. He speaks directly, with little emotion, and with confidence but not arrogance. He struck me as a quite humble everyman, except that unlike everyone else swanning around the place he was now dealing with the federal health department responsible for medical registration needing to demonstrate why he should be registered - that is, why he should not be struck off. When the question arose about the source of funding and costs of maintaining life (in those who have no desire to continue), he countered the ex-politician now ordained priest's repost that that was a dangerous question with the simple observation that no question is dangerous. And there the session ended.

Here's what Gonzo (aka David Walsh) says about the installation on theO:

by David Walsh

So my brother asked me to conduct a group that helps out those interested in euthanasia. They told me some stuff relating to helping someone off themselves, and also this: the suicide rate in the cancer population is not significantly different to the general population.

My brother had cancer, you probably guessed.

My brother's disease progressed (read: he became more humiliated, less my brother) without requesting death. He was probably too sick to make the request anyway.

His doctor, a staunch Christian, compromised his beliefs by telling us (me and my brother's girlfriend) that whatever happened he would write on the death certificate that the cause of death was complications relating to his cancer.

So nearer death (are you engaged in a life/death binary or can you be a little bit dead?) Lynne, the girlfriend, and I started talking about whether we should off him. We talked about increasing his morphine dose. I wanted to.

He died. I don't know whether she took my advice.

The night before he died (we murdered him?) I had a big night out. I went to a Paul Kelly concert at the Uni Bar.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


The MONA experience was pretty big. It was the main reason for going down and I went with no prior knowledge other than that it was drawing world wide attention and the guy was being sued by the tax office. Not knowing much was a good start. It is completely immersive and the cleaner the slate the better in retrospect. Just go. Then go again.

The guy is David Walsh, Walshie. The things you hear down there which may be variably accurate are that he is a university dropout, very bright, direct to the point of is-there-a-diagnosis-for-this, worked out the algorithm(s) to beat the gambling odds (on line betting on horses and whatever else) and is spending about $100 mill (and that's not the collection as far as I know) developing the winery he bought into a museum, his museum, not answerable to other funders - government, benefactors, arts boards - to show his stuff his way. And he sure does.

He strikes me as being fearless, as fearless as fearless can be. Atheist by declaration (which embraces as much certainty as do the god-botherers), his interest is in the matter we are but won't be for long, if I read him correctly, with no interest in the beyond-the-transience when that which we are dissembles. Dead End.

While dead is the recurring motif there is much more, and even a few laughs. It's probably the only thing worth planning for, death I mean, and Walshie (Australians use familiarity as one way of breaking down barriers - even the flight attendant would look at the boarding card and welcome you aboard by your first name) must be giving it some thought, if not preparing. I did mention in a previous post that you can become a perpetual member with the final reward of cremation and onto the shelf in the museum you go. Well, it's not $75, of course, it's $75K. I missed the K, that special K.

We've got a shelf of dogs by the way - Megsy, Cae, Waldo, Spot, Sissy - in terra cotta pots or wooden boxes, variously labelled. I should make an exhibit - dead dogs  - and sit it side by side with Golly when he goes in his glass display case. What a difference a museum visit can make.

Anyway, for background on the Museum and the man, there's some googlies I've searched out here, and <*not for kiddies* warning> here , and herefrom where this perspective, which is hard to see as the ferry approach just doesn't allow it, comes.

Anyway, death must be on his mind, and he's keeping it in ours.

Nothing is labelled and the first night, fuelled by a couple of rosemary martinis (the bar is the first thing to meet you INSIDE the museum) was an unplanned exploration of the place - three levels of sandstone excavation, subdivided and dressed such that each section is like none of the others, linked, connected, disgorging, embracing, expelling. On the second visit, I took the O. The O is the interactive guide and the most brilliant I've come across. And with the ticket price, as should it be in all other galleries. What crap to pay more to learn more. And locals, Tasmanians, (two heads is the give away says the blurb ) get in for free.

The O (theo) knows where you are (remember nothing is labelled) with its own little GPS, and shows you what's near you, when you ask it, and there's background reading (artwank and gonzo, which is David W's take on things), plus audio for some (interviews with artists, commentators etc) and the option to like it or hate it. I heard that when something gets too many 'likes' it's likely to get pulled. Then if you give your O your email addy, it stores your tour and you can revisit in on line forever (till death that is) including your ratings, and even the sequence you followed with an interactive display of your museum tracks. Bars and toilets not included, praise the lord.

Museum fatigue is delayed (unlike death) by the brilliance of the presentation and the endless variations in levels and space. The closest I can think of is Musée du quai Branly. There's the death room for example where entry is restricted to two at a time, a nearly totally black space with stepping stones across inky black water, ending at the coffin and mummy of Paurisis. And a butterfly poem and a spotlit noose.

To give you an idea of David Walsh, here's what he (gonzo) says:

"Mummies are dead people. What 'dead' means is surprisingly difficult to pin down. We used to define death in terms of cessation of heartbeat, not very useful now we have resuscitation techniques and artificial hearts. So we talk about 'brain death' which is itself difficult to pin down. Parts of the human brain can function while the rest has failed. Under severe oxygen stress the brain shuts down less essential components. And tax agents are clearly brain dead, but by some definitions functional

But 'brain death' only applies to organisms with brains. When is a plant dead, or a coral, or a virus? To pin this down we need a negative sedition, a cessation of biological activity, the end of life.

So to make death stick we have to pin down what life is. That hasn't proved to be easy either. When i was a kid we were taught about a bunch of characteristics that define life such as 'response to stimuli'. Obviously viable organisms have been found which break each of the rules in turn. The 'Wiki' article on 'life' actually uses the phrase 'all or most' of these phenomena.

The best definition running around at the moment seems to be 'self-sustained chemical system capable of undergoing Darwinian evolution', also from Wiki's 'life' article. This seems to excuse viruses because of the 'self-sustained' bit so that should probably be turfed as well.

So you're dead if you could once undergo biological evolution but now cannot. Don't tell grandma.

The only space not underground is beyond the tunnel, a long cold sewer like concrete people-activated music interactive tube

which leads to the library, then to the corridor where you can charcoal rub sheets of paper on massive blocks of granite from a Hiroshima cathedral and each rubbing, signed and dated, goes into a large bank of black drawers on the wall (here, you do yours together she said to us, in a tender moment of understanding). Next you emerge into daylight and the pavilion built solely for the Anselm Keifer Sternenfall (he wanted a pavilion so he fucking got one says Walshie). For me it didn't really work. There's an arrogance and specialness that robs it of much of its impact.

It's like the old ghost train when you suddenly burst out into the outside, before just as quickly swinging back around, doors flapping, and disappearing again, eyes startled by the light.

Back into the dark and the ride you really don't want to stop.
 are dead people. What 'dead' means is surprisingly difficult to pin down. We used to define death in terms of cessation of heartbeat, not very useful now we have resuscitation techniques and artificial hearts. So we talk about 'brain death' which is itself diffi


A shop window (hint: they also sell cakes) in Hobart -

Monday, October 1, 2012



No wonder it felt cold last night. Come the morning, there was a dusting of snow on Mt Wellington but the sky was clearing and the ferries were running.

This MONA needs more than one visit (more than two really) and at least one approach by water.

The ferry heads up Derwent River under the Tasman Bridge, a vast concrete span now well etched

into most Australians' psyche by the memory of the bulk ore carrier which crashed into two piers and sank within minutes drowning seven crew and five people in the four cars which drove into the void. It was Nearly Six Cars.

The ship lies down there still, cargo intact, covered in concrete.

It takes about half an hour up the river, past the belching zinc refinement plant to which the fatal ore was heading, up in the suburbs,

before MONA appears on the site of an old vineyard - a classified '50s house onto and around and under which the museum has been built.  Cantilevered accommodation pavillions stare out across the river.